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CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — The U.S. Army’s 18th Medical Command is urging the military community in South Korea to take precautions against heat injury this summer.

More than 40 soldiers suffered heat injuries in 2004, the command stated, even though almost all such injuries are preventable. None of the injuries was fatal.

“To stay cool, your body gets rid of heat by sweating. But when it’s humid, the air doesn’t dry the sweat as well, so it’s harder for your body to stay cool even if it’s only in the 80s,” stated a release from the hospital.

The Army has developed a heat stress index to determine the risk of heat injury. The index takes into account temperature but also how sunny it is and the humidity, to give a better idea of how well your body will be able to keep cool on a given day, the release stated.

People can contract several types of heat-related illnesses, the release stated, including heat rash, heat cramps and sunburn.

Heat rash and sunburn can make people more susceptible to serious heat injury because they damage the skin and interfere with sweating. Heat cramps, painful muscle cramps that occur when people lose too much salt or too many electrolytes, can be treated by drinking water or sports drinks.

The Army is most concerned with preventing the more serious heat exhaustion and heat stroke, according to the release.

“Both occur when the body can no longer adequately cool itself. For most people, heat exhaustion begins because they lose too much water in sweat and cannot or do not drink enough to replace it all,” the release stated. “You can lose up to two liters of sweat an hour but your stomach can only absorb a maximum of 1.5 liters an hour, so it’s actually surprising that we don’t have more heat problems.”

Symptoms of heat illness

The first signs of heat illness include dizziness, fatigue and sometimes nausea and vomiting. At this point the person still is conscious and his body temperature has risen just a few degrees. If the person doesn’t stop what he’s doing, cool down and hydrate, he could progress to heat stroke. In heat stroke, the body temperature has risen — often to 105 degrees or more. The high temperature and extreme dehydration can cause organ failure, usually the kidneys and the liver.

In heat stroke, the brain gets too little blood and a person becomes disoriented, even passes out. He may lose so much fluid that he stops sweating. Death is a possibility.

Soldiers who develop heat-stroke symptoms should get to a cool environment, drink cool water and get medical care as soon as possible.

Prevention

Reschedule strenuous activities for the cooler parts of the day or modify activities to reduce heat stress.Drink a lot of water and minimize caffeine and alcohol intake, which dehydrate.Eat regular meals.Pay attention to the weather.During rest periods, go to a cool, air-conditioned area if possible.Use sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30 and remember to reapply it periodically.If you’re not feeling well, avoid strenuous activities.If you’re not used to the humidity, take time to acclimatize over a period of two weeks out in the elements.— Provided by the 18th Medical Command

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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